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Cutaneous drug reactions occur when your skin has a reaction to a drug you are taking. A red, itchy rash and hives are the most common reactions; however, there are many different types, and some can be life threatening. Drugs that most frequently cause problems include sulfa drugs, antibiotics such as penicillins and tetracyclines, and phenytoin (Dilantin, a drug that prevents convulsions). Other drugs can also cause adverse reactions. Symptoms typically occur within 2 weeks of starting a medication.
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
The following drugs might cause cutaneous reactions:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your doctor will examine your skin, mouth, and throat. You should make a list of all the drugs (prescription, nonprescription, and illegal) and herbal and vitamin supplements you've taken over the last 4 weeks. Your doctor may have you stop taking the suspected drug and prescribe something else.
The treatment depends on the type of reaction you are having and how serious it is. Symptoms will often disappear once you stop taking the suspected drug or take it at a lower dosage. However, you may need treatment to recover. Your health care provider may prescribe drugs to help stop the reaction, such as epinephrines, corticosteroids, antihistamines, or topical ointments. If you also have life threatening symptoms, such as trouble breathing, you will be hospitalized until you are stable.
Because the kind of treatment you need depends on the type of skin reaction you are having, it's important to see your doctor and not self-treat for any adverse drug reactions. If you suspect a drug is causing an adverse reaction, talk to your doctor immediately before stopping the drug.
Surgical removal of dead tissue may be necessary in very severe reactions.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Some cutaneous drug reactions may be life threatening and need immediate medical attention. Mild reactions may be safely and effectively treated with alternative therapies. However, talk to your doctor before using any therapy, as you will need to adjust the type of drug or the dose of the drug that caused the initial reaction. You should notify your doctor when any kind of drug reaction occurs. Keep in mind that a cutaneous drug reaction that occurs the first time you take a drug may cause an even more severe reaction the next time you take that drug. It’s important to keep a record of any drugs that cause reactions when you take them.
Some alternative treatments may cause allergic reactions of their own, so it's important to follow the directions of your doctor before starting any treatment. The following are some natural therapies, which, when used under a doctor's supervision for a short period of time (3 -7) days, may promote healing.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider. Always tell your doctor about any herbs you may be taking.
Talk to your doctor to find out which treatments are best for your particular skin condition.
Some of the following herbs also can be combined into a poultice or skin wash, avoid contact with the eyes, mouth, and nose:
To relieve itching and help skin heal, you can combine chamomile with marigold or echinacea.
For further skin relief, add powdered oatmeal (or 1 cup of oatmeal in a sock) to a lukewarm bath.
Homeopathic remedies can be used to improve symptoms of itching, burning, and swelling. While few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies, professional homeopaths may recommend one or more of the following treatments for cutaneous drug reactions based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Acupuncture can help reduce itching and inflammation of the skin. Most treatments will focus on “cooling surface heat."
It is important to stay in touch with your health care provider until the reaction is completely cleared up. If you have severe reactions, wear medical alert jewelry stating what drugs you are allergic to.
If you have any questions about any drug -- whether it is prescribed by your doctor or purchased over the counter -- ask your pharmacist or health care provider.
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Review Date: 3/2/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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